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The global circuit beckons him

Yet another director from Kerala, Biju Viswanath, is all set to enter the international film arena with his English film ``Deja Vu.'' K. SANTHOSH writes about the young, enterprising personality and his new project.

AFTER MANOJ Night Shyamalan and Murali Nair, another director from Kerala makes it to the international cinema circuit. Biju Viswanath's English film, ``Deja Vu'', featuring British actors Paddy Fletcher and Simon Binns, is being shot in Goa, Thiruvananthapuram and the Cornish island, Lundi.

``Deja Vu'', a film about phobias, is a dream come true for the director. Known for his music video albums, some of which have been telecast on MTV, Viswanath had been toying with the idea of making an English film for long, but could not find a producer to back him up. Sick of his work in commercial cinema which yielded a comedy, the young director, a postgraduate in English literature, had been looking for greener pastures.

``If you are sensitive, you are not the right man for commercial cinema. Star tantrums and production hassles will drive you nuts,'' he says.

Frustration was mounting and Biju sought refuge in the small screen, adapting O. Henry stories. ``This was more satisfying because you were handling something more sensible.''

Interesting assignments then started pouring in. The Bharathan Foundation asked Viswanath to shoot and direct a docu-feature on litterateur-scenarist-director, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the making of the latter's masterpiece, ``Nirmalyam''. Not a scene from the Malayalam classic was used in Viswanath's tribute, ``The Voyage''.

Instead, it reconstructed MT's childhood and the incidents that inspired him to write ``Pallivaalum Kaalchilambum'', the story on which ``Nirmalyam'' is based. The last scene of the docu-feature shows a temple oracle, Velichapad, following MT like a shadow - the character in search of the author.

Dame Luck smiled on Viswanath: ``The Voyage'' was selected for screening at several international film festivals. Of these, he may never forget the one at Zanzibar, to which he was invited.

From Mumbai, he flew with the print of his film to Dar Es Salaam, where he was to have been picked up by the festival authorities. None turned up because of some foul-up and the director was left high and dry in the African country. After a long day's wait, he secured a seat in a mini plane bound for Zanzibar. ``The print was put in a compartment under the nose of the wobbly plane. As it coasted along, I feared whether the print would fall into the waters below,'' Biju says with a smile.

At Zanzibar, Syed Alev, an NRI, showed the director around. Over umpteen cups of coffee, they talked over films. Alev asked Viswanath, ``You are a struggling director, I gather. Shall I help you make a film?''

Back home, Viswanath discussed the proposal with film editor Sreekar Prasad. And under the banner of Film Freaks, they launched ``Deja Vu''. The 90-minute film tells the tale of a lighthouse mechanic in a deserted island, and a shipwrecked man.

Some of its important sequences have been shot at Vengurla, a rocky island near Goa. ``The lighthouse there, which was the main location, has an old world charm about it,'' Viswanath says.

``Deja Vu'', based on my own story, portrays various aspects of fear,`` he explains. ''The hero goes through different stages of fear - suspicion, dread, panic and terror - before he finds his catharsis.``

A torn Bible, a ramshackle barn, a leaking water bottle and empty food cans are his only possessions. He waits in vain to be rescued from the island. Long hours of waiting, rain, loneliness, frustration and hunger destroys his sense of time and space. His only link to the world outside is a broken wireless, through which he can only receive messages.

Viswanath himself cranks the camera for ''Deja Vu``. He shares the screenplay credit with British writer Laura Andrews. Liza Spainz from Britain is the costume designer.

``The British Film Institute had promised to produce the movie,'' Viswanath says. ``But the project did not take off following the post-Pokhran sanctions that were imposed on India.''

The mainstay of ``Deja Vu'' is the performance by Paddy Fletcher, a stage veteran. He has been a frequent visitor to India, with the world-famous Footsbarn Travelling Theatre. Though a writer of short films and TV series such as ``The Bill'' and ``Love Hurts'', he has rarely appeared on the big and small screen.

``Theatre is my home,'' he says. ``Nothing else gives me joy as performing live before audiences.''

The journeys with Footsbarn have given Fletcher ``the opportunities to interact with people of different hues, learn various languages and understand various cultures''.

Footsbarn has played to bureaucrats in Moscow and to cowboys in Red Rocks. From Trebujena in Spain to Guanajuato in Mexico, Plymouth in Britain to Alice Springs in Australia, the strolling players have acted out Shakespeare and Chekhov, Moliere and Albee, Beckett and Ionesco. They have staged ``King Lear'' in Oenpelli, ``Macbeth'' in Clermont-l'Herault, ``The Master and Marguerite'' in Bilbao and ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' in Nijmegen.

``Footsbarn shows are inspired by the traditions of the places we visit,'' explains Fletcher . ``Our ``Macbeth'', for example, was inspired by our interaction with Australian aborigines, while our ``King Lear'' depicted Italian customs.''

Fletcher and his troupe had come down to Kerala in 1995 to select four Malayali players for the Footsbarn production of Homer's ``The Odyssey''. The play they put up had a Malayali touch about it. For instance, Odysseus spoke in Malayalam, hummed folk tunes of Kuttanad, wrestled like a Kalaripayattu pro and aped Kathakali movements.

``He (Fletcher) is an expert in commedia del arte, dance, music, shadowplay, circus and clowning, all of which Footsbarn puts in its shows. Acting comes naturally to him,'' Viswanath praises his actor.

This is the first time Fletcher is playing a major film role. ``And I am enjoying every bit of it,'' he says.

Binns, his co-actor, has worked with several U.K. drama companies. Both of them had appeared together in the British stage productions of ``Moby Dick'' and ``Hamlet''.

Fletcher has suffered a lot for his role in ``Deja Vu''. He jests, ``The director makes me confront my worst fears: of heights, cockroaches and water.''

After all, the movie is about phobias.

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Section  : Entertainment
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